Symptoms (1974) review

symptoms1Symptoms (UK, 1974)
Dir: José Ramón Larraz
Starring: Angela Pleasence, Lorna Heilbron, Peter Vaughan

Out April 25th on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD from BFI

Plot: When Anne (Heilbron) is invited to the secluded country mansion of girlfriend, Helen (Pleasence), it seems like they’ll have a nice quiet weekend in the countryside. However not everything is as it seems, the groundskeeper (Vaughan) is looming around menacingly, and the presence of Helen’s friend, Cora, seems to haunt the mansion.

Long since thought as lost after it’s original release in 1974, Symptoms is being restored and re-released by the British Film Institute as part of their BFI Flipside program, attempting to revisit more obscure cinema from the UK. Taking a similar route to companies such as Arrow Video and 88 Films, BFI Flipside are releasing Symptoms on bluray and dvd with plenty special features to appeal to the collectors.

I have to say that I’m surprised that a film that is over 40 years old would have a lesbian couple as the main focus, and not focus too hard on the lesbianism. The relationship between Helen and Anne is not overt, to the point that it feels that it is only Helen who has feelings towards Anne. Through watching Symptoms, it only felt like a friendship between them, except for a little unrequited love. However between the press release and IMDB and their use of the word Girlfriend, that it’s more than just friendship. Perhaps with the censorship at the time, the film couldn’t be more explicit with their relationship, but it kind of works better.

symptoms2The plot of Symptoms is a little predictable by modern standards, it’s a thriller about infatuation and jealousy, themes that are used constantly in film and television. It doesn’t take long to unravel the mysteries of this film, but it does give it that impending doom feeling. You know something bad is going to happen and you’re waiting for it to unfold.

Both the groundskeeper and Helen are very insidious and creepy characters, and as the film goes on you have to wonder which is the red herring here. Helen is particularly unsettling, showing the acting prowess of Angela Pleasence. Not surprising since she is the daughter of Donald Pleasence.

The location of Symptoms is definitely one of the strongest elements of the film, the mansion is very forboding and creepy in it’s isolation. Pair that with the thunder, lightning, and torrential rain that batters on it later in the film and it becomes a very unsettling place. The storm also adds to the inevitable threat of the film, as Helen talks of the storm drawing near early in the film.

symptoms3While I wouldn’t say that Symptoms is a classic for the ages, it’s definitely worth a watch, especially since it has been lost from the public eye for so long. It harkens back to British thrillers, still tinged in gothic styling. Much like the work of Hammer it has a certain British charm to it that seems a little lost in modern films that feel a little tainted by the need to appeal to a wider audience, and adopting more American attitudes to fit that appeal.

7/10

Special features

Newly restored in 2k
On Vampyres and other Symptoms (Celia Novis, 2011, 74 mins): Feature-length documentary about director José Ramón Larraz focusing on two of his most acclaimed films, Vampyres and Symptoms
From Barcelona to Tunbridge Wells: The Films of José Larraz (Andrew Starke & Pete Tombs, 1999, 24 mins)
Interview with Angela Pleasence (2016): Interview with the film’s star
Interview with Lorna Heilbron (2016): Interview with the film’s co-star
Interview with Brian Smedley-Aston (2016): Interview with the film’s editor
Original theatrical trailer
Illustrated booklet with new writing by Vanity Celis and full film credits
UK | 1974 | colour | English language, with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles | original aspect ratio 1.33:1 | 92 minutes

Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #10 – Galaxy of Terror (1981)

got1Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #10 – Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Join Che as she plays Netflix Roulette and watches a randomly selected horror film (usually but not this month) . Will it be awesome? Will it be torture? What horrors await?? Find out every month with Netflix Roulette!

Title: Galaxy of Terror

Year: 1981

Director: B.D. Clark

Starring: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Robert Englund, Sid Haig, Grace Zabriskie

IMDB Rating: 5.1

Seen it before: No

First Impressions: Full disclosure, I picked this film because a bunch of people on Twitter were talking about a maggot raping a woman to death and it sounded so insane I had to see it for myself. It is NOT promising that it is produced by Roger Corman. That automatically means it’s going to be cheap. But, will it live up to its infamous hype? Let’s find out.

The Verdict: Soooooo, what the hell was that anyway? Besides a confused and underwhelming mess full of weird and interesting ideas that go nowhere and accomplish nothing.

got2Basically the crew of a spaceship is sent out to rescue another spaceship and they discover an alien pyramid that is killing them off with their own fears. A bunch of really goofy stuff happens to some pretty decent actors and then Edward Albert becomes the new planetary Master of where ever they started form (sorry I didn’t take notes and I’m not going to watch it over to get this right).

There is zero explanation of the Planetary Master- who he is and why he’s master of this planet or why he plays games with an oracle/witch, who opens the film with voice over and then is never heard from again. There are so many confused ideas in this it’s bizarre, and it seems like some of them COULD have gone somewhere with a little extra effort at explaining things to the audience. Instead it feels like a mishmash of Dune/Alien/Solaris/Battle Star Galactica but without any of the cohesion of those other films.

The effects are as cheap as expected. Say hello to some old school, and not very well done matte paintings. Though I guess James Cameron needs to get some props for the Gigeresque pyramid.

Galaxy could almost be saved by the acting, which is decent. A lot of TV and movie stars are in this. A young Robert Englund was very good and Grace Zabriskie as the intense-as-hell Captain Trantor was a real treat. I’d actually watch the hell out of a movie about the origin story of her character.

Biggest complaint, aside from the script, special effects and whatever that ending was, is the lighting. Everything is dark and murky with poorly lit monochromatic sets. The planet itself looks like a purple junkyard full of car parts and rocks. And for some reason in the future giant backpack lights are more reasonable than flashlights?!

got3And I know your all waiting for the verdict on the maggot rape scene. Well, it too was underwhelming and honestly a bit goofy (much like everything else in this mess). The giant worm looked like a Power Rangers villain and how it got that poor woman’s clothes off I’ll never know. It only had squishy appendages that didn’t look like they could get a grip on anything let alone fabric. The scene was also mercifully short, but if you are looking for outré horror sex scenes just watch Naked Lunch again.

Galaxy of Terror is sort of so weird it’s worth watching once but no more than that.

Rating: 4/10

After Death (2015) DVD Review

afterdeathdvdAFTER DEATH (Dirs- Gez Medinger, Robin Schmidt-UK-2015)

Starring- Miranda Raison, Sam Keeley, Daniella Kertesz, Elarica Johnson, Lorna Nickson Brown

Out now on UK DVD & VOD from FrightFest Presents and Icon UK

If anything its safe to say that any plot synopsis of AFTER DEATH can not come with the proverbial spoiler warning that can be found in many reviews now (see SIGHT AND SOUND for proof) as the films central character’s are already dead, plus the title kind of gives that away as well. However what we have on offer here is an intriguing take on what happens after death pondering the age old question of whether life exists once our bag of bones has breathed its last breath and it does this in a considerably mature and impressive fashion.

A woman, Robyn (Raison) wakes up on a beach,washed up and wet and wondering where the hell she is, when suddenly a menacing almost demonic black cloud springs up and starts to pursue her. She ends up at a creaky looking old cottage meeting up with 4 other strangers, Seb (Keeley), Patricia (Johnson), Livvy (Brown) and Onie (Kertesz), who inform her that she is dead and that they are in the after life. All of them have been involved in a fatal accident at a nightclub and have found themselves in a sort of limbo, with only brief moments of loud crippling pain caused by a lighthouse beam from outside. Is this limbo or is it hell or is it a waiting room of sorts to something worse? They have to try and figure out why they are here and whether past deeds have caused them to end up in this position and also to worry about the black cloud figure that wants to possess them or stop them from attaining any chance to get back to existence.

afterdeathdvd3Admittedly you can point out that the makers certainly utilise their budget to it’s advantage as rather than focus on delivering grandiose set pieces in an alternative after life universe, Medinger and Schmidt place their characters in a small location in this case a cottage. The inside of the cottage is a manifestation of key points of the characters lives mostly from childhood memories. The cast themselves work considerably well to create believable and realistic characters. At first I found some of them annoying and maybe that was the intention of screenwriter Andrew Ellard, whose script contains moments of humour peppered through the dark situation, not surprising since he previously was a scribe for RED DWARF. Though as the film progresses, soon traits start to shift, from Robyn being the managerial leadership type, and Seb being the jack the lad put upon alpha-male of the group, which allow for the characters to develop and with whom you start to emphasise with whilst being convincing and believable.

Though I will point out that Seb made the right point in somehow bringing a crate of vodka taken from the club he died in into the after life somehow (hey if your gonna be stuck in limbo you might as well bring some booze). Yet this device allows the character’s to engage in a game of truth or dare to reveal what sins they have committed in the past that may have led them to this point and this further uncovers revelations that confound our impressions of this unfortunate group. Whilst it does tackle big themes the film doesn’t leap into preachy or symbolic gestures or even religious ideas of the after life, rather finds it being grounded in something more profound, realistic in a way and makes us wonder how we would perceive what happens once we are six feet under. Most horror deals with the cause of death and can be handled a lot of the times in grim and often gory ways.

afterdeathdvd2But it’s a great method that the makers have employed here that their main players are already dead, as many after life themed films would have this trait as a twist reveal at the end. This allows the filmmakers to create a world around these souls and to have them confront the head on (un)reality that they are no longer earth bound and to figure out what that evil dark cloud is and why it seems to want to harm them further. There is also an interesting trait in having the character of Onie to keep jumping in and out of the after life, as it suggests that she is possibly still alive or in a coma and that she might be the one chance to escape before the others have to face the possibility of going to the next realm which doesn’t seem all that appealing.

Credit should also be given to the cinematography and production design which manages to create a grey looking world, with a bleak landscape that has a beach that seems to have not seen any sun in years and a cottage that is perfectly framed to represent a last chance saloon so to speak for doomed souls. Whilst some of it may falter in the second part, and certain traits of the character’s become slightly one sided (particularly in the only male of the group, Seb), plus you kind of want to see more or possibly an expansion on the themes explored and the world in which its portrayed (though this might be constrained by budget), there is no denying that AFTER DEATH is an impressive début feature from Medinger and Schmidt.

afterdeathdvd1Whilst life after death is not new in horror, its refreshing to see a film that handles a common theme for the genre and tackles it in an intelligent manner offering a glimpse of what might lie beyond and it’s a subject that is universally recognised in many different cultures as its obvious we do not know what awaits us. AFTER DEATH, despite a few flaws, offers a unique glimpse of the after life and is bolstered by impressive performances and a strong visual style that will make whatever project Medinger and Schmidt make next, worth checking out.

7.5/10

The Cursed (2010) Review

The Cursed-WEB1The Cursed (2010)
Written by Devin Watson (as D. Martin Watson)
Directed by Joel Bender

Starring: Louis Mandylor, Brad Thornton, Costas Mandylor and Francesca Cecil

UK VOD May 11th 2016

Synopsis : Denny White travels to Warren County, Tennessee to visit an old friend, write a book, and restart his life. Instead he finds himself in the middle of a series of incidents, including animal mutilation and murder, apparently perpetrated by a mysterious creature that’s been waiting for Denny to come back home…

“You ever seen evil, boy? You ever looked down on it? I did that.” Willie Gar

The short version of this review is that Denny White (Brad Thornton) comes to Warren County, Tennessee to visit his friend, Bill Fisher (James Marshall), and sort of restart his life. He plans on doing some research, writing a novel, and just decompressing. Except something is murdering animals and people, and it’s somehow tied to Denny. He gets involved with the local librarian (Francesa Cecil), pisses off the local deputy (Louis Mandylor), and eventually uncovers the source of the evil with the help of coincidence and exposition from local historian, Willie Gar (Tom Wright). The creature design in interesting, but the movie is mostly forgettable. If it happens to be on TV while you’re flipping channels, it wouldn’t be the worst use of your time.

the cursedThe longer version, which may be a little spoilery, is all the stuff above, but with a lot of things that bothered me as a movie viewer, screenwriter, and filmmaker. First, I understand the limitations that budget puts on a film, so I recognize some elements are just, “Look, we just shoot this thing, and hope no one really notices.” But, other issues seem like problems in the writing and execution.

The opening scene takes place in 1968, in Tennessee, in a house with a kitchen that looks too modern, and people whose clothing and hair wouldn’t draw attention in 2016. Had it not been for movie text telling me it was 1968, I wouldn’t have realized it wasn’t contemporary. Then a girl disappears leaving only the stump of a hand (which I couldn’t identify without freeze frame because of a constant flashing) and the movie proper starts.

Aside from being mentioned in one of Denny’s clippings later, I’m not sure of the connection between this scene and the rest of the movie… other than being more attention-grabbing than the next scene, which is Denny driving along to a theme song that seems more appropriate for a rom-com “breakup before they get back together” montage. This song continues to play in the background even later in the scene when Denny has stopped to ask directions, and would logically shut the music off to hear them. Sheriff Jimmy Muldoon (Costas Mandylor) provides said directions after he stops chopping wood in his uniform to give them. In fact, that’s what Mandylor’s character does for most of the movie – chop wood in uniform and scowl.

We’re then introduced to Denny’s pal, Bill Fisher (James Marshall) and some exposition, then some cows are murdered, and we meet Deputy Lloyd Muldoon (Louis Mandylor) who gets an exposition scene where we learn he’s the Sheriff’s younger brother, and that he is self-conscious about it.

The Cursed-WEB2And brotherly “rivalry” is one of several beats this movie throws in, either because someone thought they needed them to flesh things out, or because someone realized that those beats are standard for a movie and needed to be included. We also learn that the Sheriff is losing his home; Denny has a mysterious past with connections to Top Secret government work; the hot librarian lives with, and takes care of, her drunken dad; that everyone seems to be tied to the evil history at the core of the story; and most of it doesn’t pay off, or really get wrapped up.

There are also things that just strained my willingness to suspend disbelief. One of them is a slave plantation that has remained abandoned since sometime after the American civil war, yet looks nearly move-in ready. The other is an SKS rifle that can be modified to fire a round at Mach 20, which is roughly ten times the speed of a conventional round through the same firearm.

Eventually, Denny and Louis confront the evil, and, because of some exposition from local historian Willie Gar (Tom Wright), we’re left with a nod to Carpenter’s “The Thing” ending, in which the audience is left wondering if the creature inhabits one of the men, and if so, which? Followed by a cut to black and gunshot sound effect.

For a movie with something like ten human victims and thirteen head of cattle (“Nobody gives a $#*t about your cows!”) this flick doesn’t have a ton of gore. So, if that’s your thing, this movie won’t do much for you. Really, it’s tame enough that, to me, the most disturbing scene is one between Thornton and Cecil in which he yells at her, slams her against the wall, and her response is to throw herself onto him and aggressively kiss him, until they switch to the obligatory (and also tame) “sex” scene.

the cursed3In the end, “The Cursed” feels like a jumble of tropes and character motivations got thrown into a blender, and the result was poured out onto the page, then shot, and released. It feels like a couple solid passes by the screenwriter might have taken out the less important bits, and shored up the rest, but that didn’t appear to happen. I can’t really recommend this movie unless you’re a super fan of the Mandylors or Brad Thornton.

Overall, this movie is about 2 on a scale of 10.

Night of The Living Deb (2015) Review

notldeb1NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB (2015)

Starring Maria Thayer, Michael Cassidy and Ray Wise

Directed by Kyle Rankin

Written by Kyle Rankin and Andy Selsor

Out on DVD May 2nd from FrightFest Presents and Icon

“After a girls night out, endearingly awkward Deb wakes up in the bed of the most attractive guy in Portland, Maine. She’s thrilled, but she can’t remember much of what got her there. Pretty boy Ryan only knows it was a mistake and ushers her out of the door…into a full-scale zombie apocalypse. Now, a walk of shame becomes a fight for survival as the mismatched pair discovers that the only thing scarier than trusting someone with your life…is trusting them with your life”.

Coming from the Frightfest Presents banner, Night Of The Living Deb comes at you like a Judd Apatow zombie film. It’s a patchy affair, with as many hits and misses in its gag ratio, but there’s some great work here in a film that was clearly a lot of fun to make.

notldeb2Redhead Deb (Maria Thayer) is on a quest for love. But she very rarely has luck due to some…unconventional social skills. She’s consistently inappropriate and quotes poetry every ten minutes. When metrosexual neurotic Ryan (Michael Cassidy) wakes to her in the morning, he wants her out. But pretty soon, the hangover and walk of shame isn’t the problem. It’s the zombie apocalypse. Not that it seems to bother Deb much. She approaches the situation like she does every other, with irreverence and optimism. And so the two go on a journey of self-discovery and survival, running into Ryan’s father (Ray Wise) and knucklehead brother (Chris Marquette) on the way.

The zombie and romantic comedy genres seem to be good bedfellows recently. Burying The Ex and Life After Beth both worked to varying degrees of success, and Zombieland became an instant hit. But the daddy, the one that all must be judged by, is still Shaun Of The Dead. And Night Of The Living Deb, even with its punny title, doesn’t really compare.

Where Shaun had likeable and relatable characters in a heightened but still recognisable reality, Deb has fairly insufferable characters and a cartoony gloss that only looks cheap and superficial.

notldeb3Deb and Ryan are greatly realised characters, don’t get me wrong. The details of each of their neuroses are fully formed and never falter, but they are also incredibly unlikable. They’re funny, but you’re never laughing with them. It’s a shame, as the ideas behind each character is full of potential. And Thayer and Cassidy are totally committed. But the decision to set them in almost a sitcom environment really harms audience engagement.

Director Rankin shoots the film in a very clean, easy to grasp manner, but it’s too damn bright and bland. While thoroughly professional, it looks like one of those teen TV dramas. And the dreaded CGI blood pops up too regularly.

How about the zombies? They’re OK. They’re your usual zombies. Some get shot in the head, some eat people, the usual. Like the film in general, they’re just a bit bland and seen it all before.

But the performances save the day here. Like the leads, the supporting cast do well. Ray Wise always classes up any joint, and Chris Marquette has some great comic timing, like a gun-toting brainless Jason Biggs.

notldeb4And while the story is predictable, the script provides some great zingers, even in the odd scene providing some genuine insight into relationship stuff. In the end, like most rom-coms, it’s quite feel good. Perhaps that was the aim here was, to put more weight on the rom-com aspect instead of horror. If that was the case, it works.

It’s just a shame the film didn’t have more ambition. It moves at a brisk pace and is never not fun, but why would you watch this zom-com when you can watch Shaun Of The Dead again?

6/10

Ghoulies (1984) Review

ghouliesGhoulies (1984)

Director: Luca Bercovici
Writers: Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Stars: Lisa Pelikan, Peter Liapis, Michael Des Barres

Out Now in the UK for the first time on Blu-Ray from 101 Films

Plot (from IMDB) A young man and his girlfriend move into an old mansion home, where he becomes possessed by a desire to control ancient demons.

I’m sure that everyone of my age group will have fond memories of browsing the shelves of their local video shop, being mesmerised and intrigued by the sheer number of awesome looking video box covers. And I’m sure that, like me, a good number of you would have one or two particular titles that both intrigued, but you never got to see!

For me, one of these titles was Ghoulies. There was just something about the image of a goblin type creature, emerging from a toilet that sent my 7 year old imagination into overdrive.

I did eventually get to see the film, about 10 years later, when I purchased an ex rental cassette from our local Blockbusters. Boy was i disappointed. Not that it was the worst film I had ever seen, but it didn’t live up to my 7 year old self’s imagination.

So, what exactly is Ghoulies about?

ghoulies1-2Originally released way back in 1985, Ghoulies(directed by Luca Bercovici) follows Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) and his girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). They have just moved into a dilapidated old mansion that was previously owned by his father. After making the place a bit more liveable, he starts to learn truths about his old man that he never knew. In essence, dear old Daddy was a Satanist!

From here, some unexplained, evil force starts to take possession of Jonathan, and he starts to become obsessed with learning more about his dad’s occult pastimes. He manages to summon a horde of tiny, goblin type creatures, and worryingly a pair of Demon Midgets! From here, Jonathan invited 6 of his best friends to the mansion for a dinner party, where he plans to sacrifice them as he believes this will resurrect his dead father.

Now, I’ve been around the block enough now to realise that you cant count on the cover art of a film to tell the whole story, but with Ghoulies I actually did feel cheated. The title, artwork and even the trailer to the movie all had you believe that the movie was all about the Ghoulies, the toilet dwelling goblins from hell. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, they seem like an afterthought(the iconic toilet scene from the front cover lasts all of 5 seconds). The main focus of the film is Jonathan’s battle with his fathers evil spirit.

ghoulies1-3The acting in the film is just what you would expect from an 80’s horror film. Peter Liapis, although a little cheesy, does perform well most of the time. The rest of the cast range from 100% pure over the top cheese, to unspectacular.

Where the film does fall down though, is the cheap looking special effects, and VERY cheap looking costume design. The Ghoulies themselves(when they are afforded screen time) look very cheap and rubbery. The natural comparison to the Ghoulies, are the Gremlins. Even if you take the difference in budget into consideration, the difference is like night and day.

The matted in special effects, like the lightening bolts and “demonic” eyes and the like, are at times hilarious, and caused my other half to laugh at the sheer “naffness”(her word!).

The plot itself, seems a bit conflicted to me. Its almost like the script was locked in, then the studio’s marketing team decided they wanted the film to be “just like Gremlins”. This leaves a few “what was that about” moments in the film. I wont spoil them, as they were some of the most(unintentionally) entertaining. The narration o the film, is very hit and miss, appearing randomly at the most obscure times.

ghoulies1-1Its not all bad though. When they do appear, the Ghoulies are very entertaining. The sheer number of different types is impressive. Also in contrast to the naff costume design, the set design really is appealing.

To sum up, if you saw this movie as a kid, you will love it to this day, but if you built it up in your head(like me), it may be best left alone. One thing is for sure though, the new Blu-Ray release that i watched made sure that Ghoulies never looked so good!

5/10

Children of Men (2006) DVD Review

childrenofmen1Children of Men (2006)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Stars: Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Out April 11th 2016 from Fabulous Films

Plot (From IMDB) In 2027, in a chaotic world in which women have become somehow infertile, a former activist agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary at sea.

The human race has been living in fear of the the next extinction level event or pandemic. Whether it be man made (nuclear holocaust), natural(a meteor strike) or a mixture off the two, scientists and so called experts spend massive amounts of money, trying to first identify, then prevent.

In Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuarón (who more recently penned hit space disaster movie, Gravilty), drops us smack bang in the middle of such a pandemic. Set in the UK in 2027, we find out that the entire female population have become infertile, and no child has been born for 18 years. Britain, being the final nation that is still functioning, has closed its borders. It is host to a civil war, between the establishment and a band of rebels who are pro immigration.

As the movie opens, we see numerous T.V. reports telling the world that the youngest person on the planet has been murdered. The reason? He refused to give his murderer an autograph. We see the films leading man, Theo (played by Clive Owen), watching the reports in a dingy London cafe. When he leaves, the cafe explodes, terrifying him.

childrenofmen2As he is frozen with fear, he is kidnapped by the rebels. They are led by a woman named Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), and we learn the Theo and Julian were once livers, and they once lost a child together. Julian is backed up by Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who more recently was in The Martian). He is the muscle of the group, as well as being Julian’s advisor.

The rebels want to use Theo to help smuggle Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), who they believe to be the last fertile female on earth into a supposed safe haven. The film is then focused on their journey, of which, i wont spoil for you.

The acting in Children of Men really is mostly top notch. Clive Owen plays the reluctant hero well. It is refreshing to see a male lead that isn’t ultra brave and heroic. The chemistry between he and Julianne Moore is plain to see, and you can really feel the pain the two share for their lost child.

One thing is was impressed with, was Cuarón’s vision of 2027 London.Wall to wall grey concrete, daubed with terrorist spin graffiti. Bearing in mind the film was made in 2006, the fact he has portrayed the UK as Xenophobic, with its borders closed really resonates today, with the EU referendum looming and “migrant crisis” taking up so many column inches in the press.

While the directing is for the vast majority, excellent, there are a few technical “goofs” and continuity errors. I wont go into them in detail, as i think it would be unfair to be so negative to such a well made and important film.

childrenofmen3There is a string of black comedy laced into the film too, which although some may find hard to take, I thought it really helped the film flow, and didn’t let the film be dragged into becoming depressing.

To sum up, in parts the film is simply stunning. Part pre-apocalypse disaster movie, part action film, part political satire. Its not perfect, and may sometimes appear a little clumsy, but overall it is very entertaining and, at times, extremely moving.

7/10

Bloody Mary: Possession (2016) Short Film Review

bloodymarypossession1Bloody Mary: Possession (Short 2016)

Writer, Director and Producer: Dark Libra

Starring: Cam Holmes and Megan Lynn Iosue

Runtime: 25min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “An emotionally distraught woman accidently unleashes a menacing spirit upon her home.

This film has been shot, edited and scored all on an iPhone 6. A nice idea for a film experiment, I was keen to see how this all played out. Not taking itself too seriously, Bloody Mary is full of little jokes and slights with the main focus on the relationship of the two protagonists, Mike (Cam Holmes) and Sam (Megan Lynn Iosue). Sam is eager for Mike to be more committed to her, while he protests that he’s already doing quite enough without the pressure of affording a wedding. Unhappy with this, Sam takes it upon herself to meddle with the supernatural in an attempt to get what she wants.

Bloody Mary is full of every haunted house/ghost/possession troupe you can imagine (in a good way), giving it nice pacing over its rather beefy duration for a film such as this (produced on a phone). The camera work as a result is surprising solid considering someone was essentially holding a phone (owning an iPhone 6 myself I know how finicky it can be).

While Bloody Mary is a début for both actors present, the performances were a little bit inconsistent, the final scenes has Mike shrieking in an inhuman high pitched tone, meant clearly to signify “the big brave man is a scared little girl” I nearly had to stop watching at this point due to its annoyance. The climax is entertaining besides the ear splitting screaming, with some great tension.

Overall Bloody Mary was entertaining; however, there were no boundaries pushed in terms of storytelling or deep and meaningful messages to walk away contemplating. It really boiled down to “let us see what we can do with a phone”.

Verdict: Fun Family Feud (now with ghosts).

5/10

The Forgotten (2014) DVD Review

forgottendvdTHE FORGOTTEN (2014)

Starring Clem Tibber, Shaun Dingwall and Elarica Johnson

Directed by Oliver Frampton

Written by Oliver Frampton and James Hall

UK DVD release May 2nd 2016 from Metrodome

When a father and son are forced to squat in an empty London council estate scheduled for demolition, 14 year old Tommy starts to hear strange noises coming from the boarded up flat next door…” Via IMDb.

Social realism lends itself very well to British horror. From the nihilistic realism of Eden Lake, the mind altering Heartless, and the straight up supernatural thrills of Urban Ghost Story, The Disappeared and When The Lights Went Out. Decaying buildings or streets littered with poor, desperate, lonely souls are perfect settings for terror. After all, you don’t need to be in an isolated cabin in the woods to be stalked and haunted, when you’re in the middle of a city in a country that views you as a second class citizen because you’re skint. It’s the reason I’m working on a script in the setting and it’s the reason The Forgotten works so exceedingly well.

theforgotten-clem (1)Teenager Tommy is a bit of a loner. Quiet and observant, yet highly intelligent underneath, he lacks the social skills to survive around his peers. After being sent to live with his fuck up of a father, Tommy is shocked to find that he is squatting in the Farlow Estate, a concrete jungle of flats die for demolition. It’s a world filled with drugs and crime, already dangerous for a person, especially one like Tommy. But when he begins to hear sounds in the night from the supposedly abandoned flat next door, he is compelled to investigate. That coupled with his dad’s increasingly strange behaviour sends Tommy down a dark, disturbing rabbit hole…

As the awkward Tommy, Clem Tibber excels, completely disappearing in his lead role making you forget he’s even an actor. He makes Tommy such an intriguing and unconventional hero, never stretching the talks of believability. For instance, Tommy sees something scary, he does what any normal, sane person would. He fucking legs it! It makes him really relatable. The supporting cast work well to contrast even more with Tibber. Johnson is great as the ballsy waitress with her own haunting past, and Dingwall is convincingly mysterious as Tommy’s reluctant father.

theforgotten1Shot with the fly-on-the-wall aesthetic made popular by Ken Loach and Shane Meadows, and filled with eerie natural (and unnatural) sound design, The Forgotten is a just as moving as it is unnerving. Director Frampton directs with an assured, natural eye, subtly using colour and lighting to convey themes and emotions. The script by Frampton and James Hall is also spot on, with a slow-burn approach and authentic dialogue.

With a constant whistling wind, the filmmakers really sell the loneliness and isolation. Tommy may be in the city, but he may as well be on the moon. It creates a never ending and all encompassing sense of dread that never slips. Add in some excellent tension and some horrifying jump scares, made all the more shocking by the minimalist but fantastically old-school score by Paul Frith, and The Forgotten is that rare breed. A horror that is actually quite scary.

You can’t help but think of all the talented UK horror filmmakers and smile. Neil Marshall, Elliot Goldner, Sean Hogan, Ciaran Foy…the list is growing every year. And now we can add Oliver Frampton to that list.

theforgotten2Our fearless leader Andy Deen caught The Forgotten at Grimm some time ago and highly recommended, and he was not wrong. The Forgotten is an example of what the UK excels at. Take away the big budget and the mega stars, and tell a real, personal story that just so happens to be absolutely terrifying. I hope this trend continues.

But I have to stop watching these films on bloody night shifts in empty buildings. Don’t think it’s healthy.

8/10

Estranged (2015) Review

estrangeddvd1Estranged (UK, 2015)
Dir: Adam Levins
Starring: Amy Mason, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas

Out now on DVD & VOD from FrightFest Presents and Icon !

Plot: When an accident ends her years of travelling, January (Mason) returns home in a wheelchair, struggling with severe memory loss. Accompanied by boyfriend, Callum, January’s return to the family she refused to speak about sparks a mystery about her past. What had she been running away from and is the danger still there?

Estranged is another of the FrightFest Presents collection, poached for distribution from the many horror films that grace the screen at the prestigious London-based horror festival. Not quite as oddball as some of their other picks including The Sand, and Curtain, instead Estranged is more of a slow, tense thriller. From first time feature director, Adam Levins, we get a moody and atmospheric film full of mystery and suspense.

While amnesia has been used before many times to draw out a mystery, it never really feels forced in Estranged. The opening accident feels very relatable, the consequence of being a little too care-free on holiday and it all going horribly wrong. However this is probably the only bit of the film that feels grounded in reality. Once the film arrives at it’s main location, the family manor, it feels like we’re also arriving in a different era. Everything just feels old, almost Gothic, and the mobile phones seen earlier disappear into some technological void. Not necessarily a bad thing but it does feel more like they are ignoring the story-telling problems of modern technology rather than dealing with it.

estrangeddvd2The cast do a great job, specifically Cosmo as the hulking patriarch, who swings between severely threatening and deeply compassionate towards his family, making him something all the more terrifying. The family come across as strange and suspicious but not overtly so, it has to be drawn out making the audience question what is the secrets they hold.

The unveiling of those secrets is not the most clear, often answering questions with more questions. This is more frustrating that intriguing and I often felt a little lost. Eventually the secrets are revealed more clearly but at that point it just feels like they’re giving you the answers rather than letting you solve the mystery yourself.

While Estranged’s main focus is the mystery of it’s plot, the story also goes to some dark places with scenes of violence and torture. The torture doesn’t really get too vicious, which is great if you don’t really enjoy torture films. However if you do enjoy extreme violence, you’re going to find the violence a bit toothless. It’s easy to be concerned for January, but there doesn’t seem to be much need for concern when it feels like her abusers are pulling their punches.

estrangeddvd3While watching Estranged, I couldn’t help but think of Lucky McKee’s The Woman another film focused around a pretty fucked up family. Estranged doesn’t quite hit the same level as The Woman, but it could have. It’s dark enough at times, but I think the general time-warped feeling of this film really keeps it from getting under the skin of the audience. If it felt a little more modern, it might have felt a little more real, and painful.

6/10